My understanding of the meaning of the word mentor can be defined as someone you look up to. To me it means someone who you want to emulate in every way. You have the opportunity to choose this mentor for yourself, if you want one. You get to decide what you want to become, and then you find someone who possesses those qualities that you hope to see in yourself. When you choose that person as a mentor, you decide that you will strive to become more like someone who has their type of character.
The world seems to define mentors differently these days. People have mentors chosen for them. It might be that someone new on a job gets another employee assigned to them to help them learn the ropes. Or it could be that someone who is struggling with their responsibilities has another worker chosen for them who will provide a model to help them improve. I don’t see a lot of folks choosing their own mentor these days. They are not deciding for themselves who or what they want to become. Someone higher up sees a need and then provides the “mentor” to fill in the gap.
The mentors in my life have been of my own choosing. I had an amazing fourth grade teacher that was the first spark in lighting my fire to want to become an educator. There were youth leaders that taught me of God’s love and showed me how to put the feelings of others first. Quiet yet passionate teachers in high school and college showed me the power of well-chosen words, and the strength of silence in between them. So many artists and artisans – drawers, painters, potters, calligraphers, and collage creators, all who are able to put their visions into a form that others can see and understand – have inspired me with their craft. Recently, through Two Writing Teachers, I have found writers whose work stirs my soul and challenges me to improve. And all through my life there have been those older and wiser persons whom I have been fortunate to hear, and wise enough to listen to, as they live their lives with meaning and purpose.
These are two entirely different ways of defining the concept of mentor. Because I think that the choices we make for ourselves are the most powerful, and because I believe in the power of having heroes and modeling our lives after someone of character, and because the first steps of any action need to be grounded in belief, my original definition of mentor best fits my own life. I am sure that this type of mentor – self-chosen, uplifting, and inspiring – yes, this mentor is most likely to make a real difference in our lives and consequently in our world.